When, in 2017, Eronmosele Ozah, the 24-year-old Nigerian makeup artist, started a combination of beauty and FX (special effects) makeup styles that he would call Beauty FX, a friend told him, “What you’re trying to do right now, you are trying to become king on an island where there’s no man.” The friend was both right and wrong: right because Eronmosele was doing something no one else had before; wrong because Eronmosele didn’t want to be just “king on an island”—he wanted to rule his world. Three years later, on 30 August 2020, he did. Eronmosele stood in a rented bakery space in Benin City and, in a feat of artistry and endurance, applied makeup on 37 models. It took him 28 hours, 49 minutes, and 43 seconds. It was the longest makeup marathon ever—a Guinness World Record in waiting.
“I stood the whole time,” Eronmosele tells me. “Each person took around 45 minutes, some took 20. I drank water but mostly didn’t eat so as to not have a running stomach. But I took sausage in the 18th hour.” Every six hours, he rested for five minutes. To prevent record attempters using performance-enhancing drugs, Guinness World Records requires that they be filmed the entire duration, so the camera followed Eronmosele even to the bathroom. He was the first to attempt the category.
Born in 1996, Eronmosele grew up with a love for colours, but it was in 2015, while he worked as a nail technician at Benson Idahosa University and prepared to sit for JAMB, that he decided to pursue makeup. “I loved the colours the [university] girls did and the way the look came out. My boss then, she does makeup too, but she said makeup was too expensive to teach me, so I stopped work. I had to start on my own. I kept on practicing and practicing till this present day.” He continued even as he was admitted to the University of Benin to study Agriculture, where he is a fourth year student.
In a world where social media has become the biggest guarantor of visibility, Eronmosele “got into FX because I wanted to create content. I started creating movie characters, like Kratos in God of War. I didn’t really know which materials to use. I asked, what can actually work? What can give me this texture? I used acrylic white paint and red lipstick and lip gloss to form fake blood.”
After developing his Beauty FX style, he still couldn’t crack the social media code. “I would put works on Instagram, no likes, and I would take them down. I hadn’t seen a makeup artist trending before. But I was observing people’s works and captions. I realized I just needed to tell the story behind my works.”
Hello Twitter,I'm a Nigerian makeup artist,I spent 6hours and my last cash bringing this to reality..show some love and help spread my work😢 pic.twitter.com/clLxoMSJm9
— I AM ERONXSHADDY (@eronx_shaddy) October 29, 2019
In October 2019, Eronmosele posted Zipper Girl, a six-hour makeup he’d done two years before. The tweet blew up, with 338.6K likes, 164K retweets and quotes, and, he says, 20.9 million impressions. “That changed my makeup game. It gave me a clearer vision of where I was going. I said, this is what the audience wants, I cannot go lower than this.” His next project, Blue Ray, “a character that is burning her beauty to bring out her innermost self,” took four hours to make, and landed him jobs. “I knew where I was going. I felt, if I could get the world to focus on me as an artist, I’d have a bright future.”
It was then that he began planning to set a Guinness World Record. He applied four times, for FX makeup, unsuccessfully. Until, in June, his fifth application, for “Longest Makeup Session,” was approved as “Longest Makeup Marathon.”
While Eronmosele was working on other people’s faces in Benin City, elsewhere, in Lagos, 23-year-old fellow FX makeup artist Jane Ebube Richard was working on her own face, manipulating it to look like other people, famous people. That month, June, was her breakthrough moment, too. Her imitation of the Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, posted on Facebook, was trending.
Jane first discovered imitation makeup in 2018, through the work of Yuya Mika, a Chinese makeup artist on Instagram. “My first imitation was Michael Jackson,” Jane tells me. “But I didn’t post it because it didn’t turn out so well.” During the COVID-19 lockdown, she decided to keep busy. “I wasn’t able to travel to some jobs I committed to. I said, let me see if I can make something out of it.”
Since her Buhari imitation, she has imitated the Nollywood actors Pete Edochie, Kanayo O. Kanayo, and Ramsey Nouah, the musicians Davido, Tiwa Savage, Falz, and Don Jazzy, the Big Brother Naija reality TV star Laycon, and the Hollywood actors Eddie Murphy and, in tribute upon his death, Chadwick Boseman. “The toughest to do were Pete Edochie and Davido,” she says, “they took three hours. I even had to do Davido twice. Some people thought I was using an app.” She continued “so the hype wouldn’t die off,” and in the three months since, her Instagram followership has grown from 500 to 18.7K.
“I am connected emotionally to art in general,” Jane says. “Anything made artistic: hair, clothes, even food.” Born in 1997, she drew as a child and painted as a teenager, and while studying Microbiology at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, she entered makeup as a side job, doing beauty makeup for five years. Her teenage painting has helped her. “My face is just like the paper. What I did with brush on paper, I do now on my face with makeup. I just kept exploring.”
Eronmosele has done imitation makeup as well. Earlier in the year, for the video creator Zfancy, he made up a young man to look like the popstar WizKid; the man’s appearance at a Lagos mall caused a minor commotion. The “Wizkid Prank” video has been viewed 1.5 million times on YouTube.
The numbers point somewhere: makeup artists—including Hakeem Effects, who broke out earlier—are now packaging their craft as more than mere accessory, as full art in itself—the subject of stories for a vast social media culture in perpetual search for the new and hot. In Nigeria’s beauty industry, the leader in Africa with an estimated worth of $4 billion (the global beauty industry is estimated at $532 billion) and an annual average growth of 4.5% in the last 20 years, refocused marketing feels like the right step for a growing sector like FX whose appeal is partly in the storytelling.
Jane has gotten calls from Nollywood companies. “They just call to say I’m doing well and they would like to work with me. They might have a movie where they need a twin role or someone died but they need someone else to play the role.”
At the moment, Jane is teaching aspiring makeup artists. “I just concluded an online class with a few people for character makeup,” she says. Eronmosele, too, has encouraged upcoming talent. On the day he set the record, a boy came to the venue to watch him, and slept there, and when he finished, he gave the boy his personal makeup kit.
Eronmosele is now awaiting confirmation from Guinness World Records, a process that might take 12 weeks unless he raised the quick processing fee. “I’ve thought about things I want to do afterwards,” he says, “creating my FX characters, venturing into cosmetology,” and he laughs, “preparing to break my own record.” Makeup, he feels, is “way more than hiding flaws—it enhances your beauty, not hide your flaws. You see that tribal mark that you have that you’re ashamed about? I will do makeup on it and still leave it there and it will still be beautiful.”
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, editor, journalist, and curator. He is Editor of Folio Nigeria, where he profiles innovators and facilitators in culture: business, art, photography, music, activism, health, food. He has vast experience working in literature. He has sat on the judging panels of The Gerald Kraak Prize and of The Morland Writing Scholarship. He is an editor at 14, Nigeria's first queer art collective, and Curator at The Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies exploring different aspects of Nigerianness. For three years, Nov. 2016 to Apr. 2020, he led the transformation of the literary blog Brittle Paper into a continental powerhouse, ideating and administering The Brittle Paper Awards, the first by an African publication. His work in queer advocacy has been profiled in Literary Hub. In 2019, he won The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. In 2020, he was named among "The 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians." He completed a collection of short stories in 2016 and his novel in 2020. Find him on otosirieze.com or on Twitter & Insta: @otosirieze.